If you are an Eritrean or a habesha diaspora from the time before the early 90s then chances are that you have been called “belles” by the natives when you been visiting our countries whether you’re aware of it or not. As you know belles is a summer fruit that has its prime season from about june till august. The diaspora also typically make homeland visits mainly during this period due to the nature of our summer brakes here in the west. Thats why we are or were called belles I was told. I’ve heard many funny stories from both sides of the gap but mostly from those that came back from their visits.
Like when my mom came back and told us she finally got my granddad a pair of new eyeglasses because the poor old man (may he rest in peace) confused all of us due to his worsening eye sight. But when he finally got them on and saw everyone all very clearly he never wanted to put them on again. He said it best himself that we all look very scary so near and close in such details 😀 It was apparently too much of change all at once for him I guess?
The gap that was created between the diaspora and the inhabitants is in a similar way a bit scary when looked at closely beyond it’s slightly blurred surfac. I my self have only been back home to Eritrea 2 times since I left it as a child long ago. The first time I returned was in the mid 90 s shortly after the country’s well longed independence. The turn had finally come for my sister and I to travel alone there as young somewhat naive teenagers and stay with our relatives during the entire summer.
What I remember most of that visit was how annoyed some people (in the arab countries) were already at the transit occasions in Yemen and Saudi airports about our (to us considered normal tourist outfits) dressings with shorts and skirts and maybe the clumsy careless teen style to complement the total culture clash. Our parents did their best to warn us about the culture differences at that time but there was only so much a teen brain could take in so the rest was up to us and our freedom we thought. Shortly after we arrived there, many surely looked at us as if we were aliens from outer space for a period. Later we kind of started to understand that they actually considered us like children if not perhaps a bit dumb, specially in comparison to the local teenagers there.
I also remember how insufficient we felt with our teenage budget for not being able to help back everyone that were genuinely and generously nice to us despite our naive and trouble free venturesome travels everywhere within the country. However what remained the same throughout the whole stay was that which ever city or village we visited we got a bit stared at if not almost discreetly laughed at sometimes simply for the way we dressed and carried ourselves like. We never really got why they found it amusing how we dressed but it was pretty harmless so eventually we kind of adapted to the reaction. In some villages, the ladies even kindly offered us a netsela (a sort of light scarf) to wear like the locals. Not necessarily to cover up anything because we didn’t reveal more than bare arms and legs below knees, but more to assimilate better. It was an act of care and consideration for us
The culture crash was just a total havoc at that time just like we were warned about. The second time I traveled there a time after the millennium shift a whole lot had changed so there were no funny reactions at all about clothing or traditionally expected behaviours. But I could already clearly grasp the huge class difference emerging. The very visible economically different lifestyles created partly by the diaspora was undoubtedly causing a tensions beneath the surface. The growth of darker emotions such as envy, greed, resentment, and abandonment where almost tangible. It was bound to naturally.
I tried to address this concern already at that time with those in the diaspora but was met with negligence if not cold denial and some mild resentment. The problem as I saw it at that time was not that the people were not nice because most of them definitely all were. But it’s the diaspora that were a wee bit too flashy, wild without the littlest minute self-awareness at all. It was so worrying how careless they were of the consequences that I was dreading silently
So on my second visit I didn’t stay there longer than a week and a half and I never went back there again since that time but kind of anticipated the development which by now has fully taken place as we can see. The mass-migrations from Eritrea and around that region in my opinion is hugely thanks to the carelessness of the diaspora distracting people from their usual daily routine hard-works. Off-course everyone was going to want to have as good economy like the “belles” people understandably. Who doesn’t want to come back to their homeland and rave around local parties flashing about at luxurious restaurants.
Everyone off-course want to better their lives and escape the hardships if they see a way out. And after the groundless US economic sanction on the country about 8 years ago the situation have worsen further to what it is today. Many risking their own and their families lives through the horrific Libyan cruelty and the dangers of Mediterranean seas. All just to get to Europe, where the life of the diaspora yet again can be recreated as an aspiration within the natives again an again like a vicious cycle.
There are off course many political aspects that played their BIG roles in the whole story of the mass-migrations we see today and I have written a little bit about that too here but this time “belles” inspired me to observe the whole situation from another perspectives I guess? So I didn’t just choose to write about this because many of us don’t already know the situation or to shame us diasporas and migrants, but to awake the necessary consciousness among us thereby promoting more responsible attitudes hopefully. We should investigate how we are contributing to the problems of migrations first of all. We should as well oversee how we are relating, engaging and what message we are conveying within our people, homelands but also our responsibilities towards our new countries. Take smal steps towards reparing this gap by creating oppurtunites and building healthier and step by steb closer relations plans for example
To give you an opportunity to start engaging in a healthy way is also why I am selling this belles painting with 30% of the profit going to #TsuriyPurpose foundation. If you have any questions regarding the painting or this project and want more insights, economical reports or wonder what other merchandise will contribute to this project then leave a message here or on instagram ’semirasemret’ and Tsuriy’s FB page and I will get back a s a p